Please stop telling me to just “write for myself”

by Jeanene Harlick | September 19, 2014 1:13 am

WritingPhotopin[1]I say this in the nicest possible way, in response to something a family member – in a sincere effort to support me – has repeated to me ceaselessly as of late: “…Just do it [i.e. write] for yourself. Anything that may or may not come from it will just be gravy on top.” 

NO. That’s not how it works.

Anybody born with writing embedded in their DNA understands that one of the reasons writers write is because they NEED an audience. That is one of the essential ways they connect to the world and people. It is one of the ways, in short, that they feel heard, and that they feel they have some agency in this world. It is one way they feel they have some tiny bit of power – however microscopic – in a world where most of us, especially those of us who don’t fit the norm, have very little power, if any at all.

Having an audience is as essential as breathing. Writing “just for myself” is not enough. And the fact that some of the few friends I have left in this world – in addition to certain family members (NOT the one referenced above, who has been unrelenting in her support and reading of my writing) – have not even visited this site, commented on it, or read any of my published writing as of late — has played a significant role in a minor depressive episode as of late.

Yes, part of the reason I write is simply for the love of writing, in an attempt to string unique combinations of phonemes together to create a beautiful, lyrical necklace. But it’s also because writing is my primary means of connection with others. I can express my constant angst and struggles much more effectively and coherently through writing than I can verbally. It is very important that my family and my friends understand this.

I could now insert a plethora of quotes from authors expressing a similar sentiments. But for now, I will include just a couple:

From the narrator in Dave Eggers’ What is the What:

“Whatever I do, however I find a way to live, I will tell these stories… because to do anything else would be something less than human. I speak to these people, and I speak to you because I cannot help it. It gives me strength, almost unbelievable strength, to know that you are there. I covet your eyes, your ears, the collapsible space between us. How blessed are we to have each other? I am alive and you are alive and so we must fill the air with our words. I will fill today, tomorrow, every day until I am taken back to God.”

From Thrity Umrigar, in an interview about one of the things which inspired her to write The Story Hour, a novel intended for an audience:

“…it is in telling different stories about ourselves one central narrative emerges, and once that happens, there is potential then to play with that narrative and change it, and that is how personal transformation can perhaps begin to occur, which, of course, is the ultimate goal of therapy. And I do believe there is something extremely valuable and cathartic about telling each other our life stories.”

From Colum McCann in a NY Times interview: 


There is nothing more substantial to place against the cruelty of the world than language.” 


photo credit: Lívia Cristina[2] via photopin[3] cc[4]

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